Astros Ace

 

Glancing Back, and Remembering Larry Dierker

Right-hander Larry Dierker was the first Houston Astros pitcher to win 20 games in a season. He retired after 13 seasons in Houston with the most wins (137) in the history of the franchise. (He remains second all-time in Houston victories to Joe Niekro.)

With a 20-13 record in 1969, Larry Dierker became the first 20-game winner in the history of the Houston Astros.

With a 20-13 record in 1969, Larry Dierker became the first 20-game winner in the history of the Houston Astros.

Dierker was signed by Houston in 1964 while he was still 17 years old, and he debuted with the big league team at the end of the 1964 season. He pitched in only nine games in the minor leagues.

Dierker was a starter from the beginning of his major league career. He was 7-8 with a 3.50 ERA in 1965 and 10-8 with a 3.18 ERA in 1966. Injuries limited him to 6-5 in 1967, but he was 12-15 with a 3.31 ERA in 1968 and was 20-13 with a 2.33 ERA in 1969. His 20 complete games and 305.1 innings pitched are still franchise records. At the close of the 1960s, the 22-year-old Dierker already had accumulated 55 major league victories.

From 1970 through 1976, Dierker was 82-67 with a 3.49 ERA. He averaged 188 inning pitched per season, an average slightly skewed down by the mere 27 innings Dierker pitched in 1973. He was the Astros’ workhorse and the team’s ace for more than a decade.

Larry Dierker averaged 15 victories per season for the Astros from 1968-1972.

Larry Dierker averaged 15 victories per season for the Astros from 1968-1972.

In November of 1976, Dierker was traded with Jerry DaVanon to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bob Detherage and Joe Ferguson. He appeared in only 11 games for the Cardinals in 1977, going 2-6 with a 4.58 ERA. The Cardinals released him after the season, and he retired as a player, though he returned to Houston 20 years later for a highly successful five-season tour as the team’s manager.

Dierker finished with a career record of 139-123. His career earned run average was 3.31. He pitched 2,333.2 innings including 106 complete games and 25 shutouts. Dierker was a member of the National League All-Star team in 1969 and 1971.

 

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Unerring Shortstop

 

The Glove Club: Eddie Brinkman

For the 1960s at least, Eddie Brinkman was the epitome of the good field, no hit shortstop. His prowess in the infield was so exceptional that in 1972, in addition to winning the Gold Glove award that season, Brinkman finished ninth in the American League MVP voting … despite a .203 batting average. Surprisingly, that was the only season when Brinkman actually won a Gold Glove.

Great range and a sure glove made Eddie Brinkman the Washington Senators’ everyday shortstop by age 21.

Great range and a sure glove made Eddie Brinkman the Washington Senators’ everyday shortstop by age 21.

Brinkman was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, and played on the same high school baseball team with Pete Rose. Brinkman was highly recruited in high school and, at the time, was considered a far superior prospect than Rose.

He signed with the Washington Senators (for a $75,000 bonus) in 1961 and made his debut with the Senators at age 19 at the end of the 1961 season. Of course, those Washington Senators were a first-year expansion team (with the “old” Senators having moved on to become the Minnesota Twins). There wasn’t that much talent standing in Brinkman’s way, and he made the big league club for keeps during the 1962.

By 1963, Brinkman was the Senators’ everyday shortstop, handling both the routine and difficult plays with the same fluid grace. During his decade with the Senators, his best single-season batting average came in 1969 when he hit .266, which would be his career high. No doubt Brinkman benefitted from having available the hitting expertise of the team’s manager that season, Hall of Famer Ted Williams.

It’s was Brinkman’s glove that kept him in the lineup, and made him so valuable to every team he played for.

Under the tutelage of manager Ted Williams, Eddie Brinkman hit a career-best .266 for the Senators in 1969.

Under the tutelage of manager Ted Williams, Eddie Brinkman hit a career-best .266 for the Senators in 1969.

After 10 seasons with the Senators, he was part of an eight-player trade in 1971 that sent Brinkman, third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan  to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Denny McLain, Don Wert, Elliott Maddox, and Norm McRae. In 1972, Brinkman had his best overall season, both in the field and at bat, while helping the Tigers win the Eastern Division championship. He led all American League shortstops with a .990 fielding percentage and had 233 putouts and 495 assists in 156 games. At one point during the 1972 season, he had a streak of 72 games without an error, handling 331 total chances.

After four seasons with Detroit, Brinkman spent the 1975 season with four different teams, playing for three of them. He was traded to the San Diego Padres, and on that same day was traded by the Padres with a player to be named later to the St. Louis Cardinals for Rich Folkers, Alan Foster and Sonny Siebert. He played in only 28 games with the Cardinals, and then was traded with Tommy Moore to the Texas Rangers for Willie Davis. After one appearance with the Rangers, Brinkman was purchased by the New York Yankees. He was released by the Yankees just prior to the 1976 season, and retired after 15 major league seasons.

Brinkman was an All-Star once, in 1973.